Why VW’s SuperBowl spot is an end-zone fumble.

05 Feb

Volkswagen’s new SuperBowl commercial went live on youtube over the last 24 hours.  Already, it has 3 million views.

I had already seen the teaser ad last week and loved it.  A bunch of dogs barking the ‘Darth Vader’ music from Star Wars.  Cute, amusing and endlessly watchable, so I’d been looking forward to the Gameday execution.

First, the good stuff.  Once again, it’s a cute ad.  Everyone knows that animals demonstrating human traits gets viewers, likes and retweets.  It’s funny.  It’s not great, but it’s still pretty good.  So well done, Deutsch.

And then, 45 seconds in, everything changes.  Suddenly, you are in the bar at Mos Eisley from Star Wars IV, the funky clarinet is playing, and patrons are debating whether the dog is better than the Vader Kid Passat ad from last year.  Darth, standing on the far side of the bar, uses the force to throttle one of the patrons who prefers the dog commercial.

I watched it once.  I smiled.  I watched it again, I smiled less.  I’m not going to bother with the third time.  The agency has made a mistake.  They’ve bent over a bit too far and showed their strategy.

It’s not so much the fact that the ‘Dog’ commercial isn’t as good as the ‘Vader Kid’ spot from last year (which it isn’t) as the fact that the entire execution has been compromised by the clear intention to spark Social Media debate about which is better and have the spot go viral.

I’m hugely surprised.  DDB handled VW since before I was born. Over that period, I don’t think there was a single advertiser/agency partnership globally that had done such a good job demonstrating product truths in such a creative, endearing and memorable manner, whether it be on TV or in print.

However, DDB is but a memory now, as VW have had numerous whirlwind romances in recent years.  From DDB they moved to Arnold, then Crispin, now Deutsch.  Clearly, VW have been in search of the perfect relationship – the one with the “kwan”.  In this commercial, that desire to check all the boxes has come across in the creative.  They have strayed from that well worn and successful path, and have produced a spot in which the requirement to produce something viral has trumped the need to produce good advertising.

Deutsch Group Creative Director Michael Kadin, interviewed by Adweek, said (of the challenges faced in capitalizing on the 2011 Star Wars ad): “To ignore it would have been glaringly obvious and strange”.  His creative partner, Matt Ian, said “It begged for a follow up”.

Ignoring it would not have been strange.  It’s not like the agency polled the general public, got a resounding “We want more” response, published the results of the poll and then blithely ignored them.  The problem is not that the public expected a follow up.  The problem is that the public wanted another great ad.  The bar had been set high.  Perhaps the only reason it “begged for a follow up” was because producing a different spot that was as good, or better, proved too difficult.  So a decision (a safe decision, a logical decision, and ultimately a cowardly decision) was made to produce a cutesy dog commercial and bolt 30 seconds of Star Wars onto the end.  Sheeeeeesh.

Maybe it will work.  Maybe water coolers around the US will be abuzz with conversation tomorrow.  Maybe tonight’s game-time tweeting will be as much about Dog vs Vader as it is about Giants vs Patriots.  But even if it is, I really don’t care.

Deutsch and VW have sacrificed their brand’s integrity.  With the exception of the Beetle driving down the street with the dog running next to it, there is no product in it.  And that’s OK.  But there is no product truth in the entire spot either, and that’s an end-zone fumble.

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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Marketing, Social Media


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